When he took a ride on a hot-air balloon near Las Vegas last week, Kentucky's Tom Stenton didn't anticipate having to operate the thing. But as he and his wife, Shawna, explain to ABC News, he had to do just that amid a crash landing. The couple were among nine people on the balloon that came down hard in the Nevada desert on Sept. 12, reports CNN. In fact, the landing was more like a "car crash," recalls Shawna. Some of those aboard—including the pilot—were ejected on impact. But those still on board, including the Stentons, had a different problem: The balloon kept bouncing off the ground and going back up into the air. That's when Tom Stenton had to figure things out.
"There was a red rope that opens up the canopy at the top of the balloon and lets the hot air out," he recalls. "And you have, like, 15 seconds from when you pull that till it starts to actually drop. So I just jerked it." When the balloon got closer to the ground, "I jerked it again, and that's when we just made contact." They had traveled about half a mile from where the balloon first landed. Tom suffered broken bones in his right hand and blood clots in his legs, while his wife ended up with a punctured lung, and a broken ankle and femur. "Tom's a hero," says Shawna. "He won't tell people, but I mean, he landed that balloon." Everybody on board survived, though at least one of the passengers had to be airlifted to the hospital. The FAA is still investigating what went wrong. (Read more hot air balloon stories.)